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Marvyn Harrison, dope black dads
Photograph: Serena Brown

Meet the Londoner who created a support system for Black fathers

Marvyn Harrison set up Dope Black Dads in 2018

By Marcus Barnes
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Father of two Marvyn Harrison is one of many Black dads in London who’s proudly and publicly challenging outdated stereotypes. In 2018, he set up a WhatsApp group with other Black fathers in the city to share their experiences. That was the start of Dope Black Dads, a support group and podcast that works to change the narrative around Black fathers and cultivate a progressive, supportive community.

It started on Father’s Day 2018. My daughter was six months old, she’s my second child. II couldn’t connect with her for whatever reason. It started to affect my mental health. I’m a proud person and I had to accept that it wasn’t possible to do something through willpower alone.

I knew I wanted to talk to somebody, a way to share experiences. I started a WhatsApp group with other dads I knew and respected and said: ‘I’m so proud of you guys. When I get stuck I think about you guys being highly functioning Black men and fathers’. Ironically, everyone felt the same way I did. We were all keeping each other going without ever having to say anything.

One day, we were discussing suicide in the group, and four people who I’d known for ages said: ‘I’ve considered it, I still think about it.’ I remember crying in the middle of Holborn, and feeling overwhelmed. I thought: I want this as a podcast, because then we can talk about it rather than type it out. It’s become a powerful resource.

There was one guy who’d moved to a different country, away from his ex and their child. He needed assistance with a letter he’d written to her. We all chipped in with edits, toning down the emotion to make it more palatable. Two months later, he was able to see his child.

The majority of our podcast listeners are women. I think that’s about them trying to understand us in a deeper way. The things that we won’t say to our partners, you’ll hear on the podcast.

The men that birthed us in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, that generation was going through such a harsh socio-economic situation. Dads from all races were running off all the time. There was a particular psychology at that time as a Black man in London. There was so much injustice, so much oppression and a lack of wealth and social mobility. It created a whole generation of absent fathers.

When we launched Dope Black Dads, we did it under the banner of changing the narrative. Before the WhatsApp group, I didn’t actually consider that I could just look at my life and the men who have created a new legacy of being active, present fathers.

I think there’s been a permanent shift in the last few months. People are more aware of the things that impact us and want to do something about it. There’s an intention to remove some of the barriers we had. I’m optimistic that change will be lasting this time or, at the very least, we’ve hit a new minimum experience. We’re never going to go backwards.

Find out more about Dope Black Dads.

Read more from our Ashley Walters takeover issue:

How to actually help London’s Black-owned businesses

‘I just want a fair shot’: Ashley Walters on Peckham, ‘Top Boy’ and Black British representation

David Lammy: ‘Shopping is not a neutral act’

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